Photo: Katherine Welles

How To Experience The Rich Black History of Montgomery, Alabama

Insider Guides Black Travel
by Ronny Maye Feb 4, 2023

Black Americans have an intricate tapestry in American history that is often whitewashed, erased, or forgotten. We hear about prominent leaders who decided to stand up against racism, segregation, and injustice, but truthfully, there are many unsung heroes who have bravely sacrificed. Montgomery, Alabama, is often referenced as the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement — and rightfully so — but the city’s influence in justice extends beyond movements like the Freedom Rides and Montgomery Boycott. On a recent trip to this city steeped in legacy and activism, I had an intimate lesson in Black history that will leave any novice or veteran learner enriched, enlightened, and empowered.

@matadornetwork Montgomery, Alabama, is often referenced as the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement — and rightfully so — but the city’s influence in justice extends beyond movements like the Freedom Rides and Montgomery Boycott. Visiting Alabama can teach you something about how Americans in the past faced their greatest challenges, and inspire you to create similar change, ultimately making this country a better place. IG: @ExperienceMontgomery #myMGM #bhm #blackhisrorymonth #montgomery #visitalabama ♬ original sound – Matador Travel + Adventure

Where to immerse yourself in Black history in Montgomery

Troy University’s Rosa Parks Museum

Photo: JNix

The tour at the Rosa Parks Museum starts off with a mini film featuring men and women, both Black and white, talking about their experience living during segregation in Montgomery. They vividly speak of what it was like to live and witness unprecedented hatred and their own roles in dismantling oppressive systems. The tour includes a digital re-enactment of Rosa Parks’ arrest on the Cleveland Ave bus and the woman behind distributing the news of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Moving through the rooms, visitors are introduced to other leaders and movements that were a catalyst for revolutionary change not just in Montgomery, but around the world. Admission for guests over 12 is $7.50 while guests 4-12 is $5.50 and free for those 3 and under.

Troy University’s Rosa Parks Museum 252 Montgomery Street, Montgomery, AL 36104

Montgomery Tours

This experience is beyond anything you can ever read in a book. History comes alive as Jake (a Civil Rights activist and historian) drives you through the streets of Montgomery in a private bus tour with a customized (or preset) itinerary. Journey through Centennial Hill and see historical sites like The Ben Hotel, see the former homes of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, and learn about how gentrification ravished thriving Black communities. Jake provides a personal narrative to each stopping point along your tour. Pricing is based on itinerary.

Montgomery Tours: 300 Water Street, Suite 301 Montgomery, AL 36104

The Legacy Museum

Photo: JNix

Sitting on the site of a former warehouse that forced thousands of Black people into bondaged labor, The Legacy Museum is an interactive journey of the treatment of Blacks from enslavement to mass incarceration. Hear stories of incarcerated men and women in prison visitor areas, watch mini documentaries of historic movements, and see if you can register to vote with a replicated Alabama state voter registration examination. Admission is $5 for guests over 6 (those under 6 are free) and includes entrance to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

The Legacy Museum: 400 N Court St, Montgomery, AL 36104

Dr. Richard Harris House

Should you find yourself on a tight schedule, make sure this is one of your stops in Montgomery. Sitting in Centennial Hill, a former bustling area for affluent Black people, is the home of Dr. Richard Harris, which served as a safe house and strategic planning location for the Freedom Riders. Harris was also a pharmacist who owned Dean Drug Store, the oldest Black drug store in Montgomery. The house sits a few doors from the home of Dr. Martin Luther King and family during their tenure in the city. The tour, available by appointment only, is operated by Harris’s daughter, Valda Harris-Montgomery, who vehemently walks you through her memories of growing up the the Civils Rights era and her family’s involvement and training for peaceful protests while you sit at the original counter from Dean Drug Store. Tours are $15 per person.

Dr. Richard Harris House: 333 S Jackson St, Montgomery, AL 36104

National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Housed on six acres, the memorial is a visual demonstration of the racial terror Black people have faced in this country that pays homage to the men, women, and children who lost their lives due to lynchings. A visit starts at the memorial square with a jarring sculpture by Kwame Akoto-Bamfo that depicts the reality of slavery. Eight-hundred six-foot markers standing, hanging from the ceiling, and laying down are engraved with the year, locations, and names of thousands of Black Americans who were lynched. Moving through the exhibit, inscriptions line the walls sharing the grueling details surrounding the taking of innocent lives. It is an emotional display, and I suggest sitting in one of the reflection areas to decompress.

National Memorial for Peace and Justice: 417 Caroline St, Montgomery, AL 36104

Mothers of Gynecology Tour

Just 5 blocks from the former Negro Hospital is this outdoor exhibit erected by activist Michelle Browder to honor the enslaved African American women who were experimented on without consent or anesthesia. The pain endured by these women at the hands of Dr. J. Marion Sims (celebrated as the father of gynecology) was the catalyst for what we now know as having “informed consent.” Tickets are $18 per person.

Mothers of Gynecology Tour: 17 Mildred Street, near the National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Freedom Riders Museum

Photo: JNix

Step inside the old Montgomery Greyhound Station, a crucial stopping point during the Freedom Riders route from DC to New Orleans in a quest to challenge how Black people were able to travel. There are still pieces of the segregated platforms and waiting areas within the station. You will learn about each of the young brave men and women who decided to that ride and their continued efforts for justice, equality, and inclusion. Tickets are $5 for guests over 18, $3 for ages 6-18 and free for those under 6.

Freedom Riders Museum: 210 S Court St, Montgomery, AL 36104

Where to eat in Montgomery

Vintage Year

This fine dining Montgomery favorite is under the culinary direction of award-winning executive chef Eric Rivera. It’s part of Vintage Hospitality Group, which also owns Vintage Café and the hydroponic container farm MGM Greens, among others. Each establishment under the Vintage Hospitality Group umbrella combines passion, regional inspiration and fresh ingredients that creates a one-of-a-kind, next level delight in every sip or bite.

Vintage Year: 405 Cloverdale Rd, Montgomery, AL 36106

Brenda’s Bar-B-Que Pit

Like many restaurants that have been open since segregation and Jim Crow, Brenda’s is an iconic part of Montgomery’s Black history and the oldest Black-owned barbeque joint in the city. It was a gathering spot for organizers for the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott. The restaurant was also instrumental in helping illiterate Black people pass literacy tests by teaching them how to read and write. When you stop by the pit (carry-out only), try the famous chicken, ribs, or pig ears.

Brenda’s Bar-B-Que Pit: 1457 Mobile Rd, Montgomery, AL 36108

Vintage Cafe Cloverdale

This remodeled bank is everything you could want in an Instagram worthy location and it’s easy to see why it was voted the Best Cafe in Alabama. The menu includes cafe staples like fresh baked goods, drip coffee, lattes, and teas, but also carries market items like handcrafted lemonades, a pimento cheese club, and breakfast cocktails. I asked the cashier to ring me up for whatever his favorites were. Moments later, the runner brought me a lox bagel and iced Vintage Fog.

Vintage Cafe Cloverdale: 416 Cloverdale Rd, Montgomery, AL 36106

Davis Cafe

The red building may seem like any hole-in-the-wall on Decatur Avenue, but the food is nothing short of one of the best decisions you can make while visiting Montgomery. For breakfast, try the salmon patty combo. Buttery grits and toast are served alongside two flavorful salmon patties for $3.95.

Davis Cafe: 518 N Decatur St, Montgomery, AL 36104

Ravello Ristorante

Drawing inspiration from the Amalfi Coast, the renovated 1920s bank serves traditional Italian dishes with a Southern flair in an upscale environment. I started my meal with panzanella (a Tuscan chopped salad) accompanied with two cocktails: jungle bird and beekeeper. That led into the entrees (bolognese di ravello and filetto mignon), which are absolutely mouthwatering accompanied by my favorite cocktail, a French 75.

Ravello Ristorante: 36 Commerce St, Montgomery, AL 36104

Pannie-George’s

Located next to the Legacy Museum is a hot selection of Southern classics such as fried chicken, candied yams, mac-n-cheese, butter beans, and fried catfish served cafeteria style. The spot is most famous for the fried chicken, which holds that perfect crunch in every bite.

Pannie-George’s: 450 N Court St, Montgomery, AL 36104

Bar Attico

Continue the inspiration from Ravello by riding the elevator up to the fourth floor for a rooftop nightcap overlooking downtown at this upscale cocktail bar. The inside area creates a luring intimate space with crafted cocktails you can’t find anywhere else. My personal favorites are the livin’ la vida Tokyo and the rye’d or die.

Bar Attico: 36 Commerce St, Montgomery, AL 36104

Central

The menu at Central is a delightful blend of seasonal flavors and pairings. The beef short rib is insanely tender on a bed of creamy five onion and parmesan grits that were an absolute chef’s kiss. Your taste buds will thank you. The black bottom sweet potato cheesecake is also a flavorful surprise.

Central: 129 Coosa St, Montgomery, AL 36104

Where to stay in Montgomery

We hope you love the spaces and stays we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.

Springhill Suites is a relatively new hotel in a remodeled warehouse turned bank to the Downtown Montgomery area, putting you within minutes of popular attractions. You can find your typical hotel offerings such as a complimentary breakfast, a gym, and an in room tea and coffee station. If you prefer your fancier coffee drinks, Starbucks is next door. Valet parking is $25, although you can probably score a close park with no problem.

Springhill Suites: 152 Coosa St, Montgomery, AL 36104

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How to get to Montgomery

The stories of Montgomery’s heroes start upon landing at MGM, the regional airport. Throughout the airport you will be greeted by images of prominent leaders, a timetable of historic events. While the airport is small, there is a lounge, plenty of charging space, a market and dining options before reaching the gates.

If you stay in a central location like the Downtown area, you’ll be within walking distance of several restaurants, bars and attractions. While rideshare services like Lyft and Uber are also an option the airport has your traditional rental car companies. Montgomery has public transportation (city bus) as well.

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